Reading Time: 7 minutes
In “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. Ravine, from the publishers of the Spaceteam Card Game, was funded on Kickstarter at the end of 2017 and has been delivered to backers. It is now available directly from Stellar Factory, from Amazon, and in some game stores. This review is adapted from my original Kickstarter alert, updated to reflect final components and rules.
What Is Ravine?
Ravine is a cooperative survival game for 3 to 6 players, ages 7 and up, and takes about 15–20 minutes to play. It retails for $24.99, with an expansion available for $12.99 that allows up to 9 players. I will note that my games have tended to take longer than 20 minutes, but I’ve been playing with 6 players, some of them kids who take a long time to make decisions. There are some references to situations and events that might be a little iffy for some 7-year-olds, but that will be kid-dependent; the rules are easy enough to learn.
- 103 Forage cards
- 41 Night cards (including Rescue card)
- 20 Madness cards
- 9 Wreckage cards
- 6 Crafting Guide cards
- 6 Spear cards
- 6 Basket cards
- 2 Shelter cards
- 36 Heart tokens
- Fire token
- Cloth bag
The game is mostly cards, with a few wooden tokens. The prototype used laser-etched tokens, but the finished version includes more polished wooden tokens with printed icons. There’s a small cloth pouch for storing the tokens.
I really like the artwork and text on the cards—they’re line drawings with just a little bit of shading, and the descriptions of things are very funny: “seemingly edible berries,” “delicious and nutritious pine nuts,” “dubious smelling onion,” and so on. The game is designed by the same team that made the Spaceteam Card Game, so you may recognize their style. This time, though, instead of the geometric-looking graphics, the illustrations look more like something from a handbook or those safety information cards from an airplane. The wreckage cards are made to look like boarding passes, complete with a name and seat assignment.
Other than the tokens, the components are very close to the prototype, though the Madness cards got some new formatting and some of the cards have been tweaked.
How to Play Ravine
The goal of the game is to survive a number of nights—at least one member of the party must survive the last night to win (though of course it’s better if more of you survive).
Give each player 6 heart tokens and a wreckage card. Each player turns three of the hearts face-up; the other three are shaken and tossed onto the table, determining the remainder of their starting health. Shuffle the forage cards and madness cards separately.
Shuffle the night cards and make a stack based on the difficulty level: 7 for beginners, 11 for normal, or 15 (or more) for difficult. Then, shuffle the Rescue card into the the last 3 night cards at the bottom of the deck. The fire token is placed in the center of the table with the fire out. The various crafted item cards are also placed in stacks in the center of the table.
Each round consists of two phases, night and day. At night, you see if you survive any events, and possibly suffer madness. During the day, you forage for food and supplies and craft items.
The game starts with a night phase. You flip over the top night card and read it—there are various effects, including weather and animals and bad dreams. They can cause you to lose health, or cards, or even destroy shelters. But there are also good events that can restore health (though not many of these). Usually, no news is good news. Spears can protect you from animal attacks, shelters can protect you from weather events, and fire can cancel certain events as well. Your wreckage cards may also help you, though most of those are single-use items.
If you’re reduced to 1 heart during the night, you go mad! Draw a madness card and follow the instructions. Madness cards will cause you to do certain things or may impose restrictions on you—some have a recovery condition, after which you are no longer mad; others have no recovery and you’ll just be mad for the rest of the game.
If you ever lose your last heart, you are dead, alas. All of your cards are placed by the fire pit for other survivors to divvy up.
There’s still one chance to survive, though: if the survivors manage to find all four pieces of the bone pile while foraging, they can form a bone circle and bring one player back to life, while also restoring two health to each living player.
In the day, players decide if they will forage or rest. If you forage, you decide how many cards you want to draw, at a cost of one health per card (up to three hearts in one day). If you rest, you don’t spend any health, but you also don’t draw any cards. Everyone must decide how many cards they want to draw before any of the forage cards are revealed.
Then, after everyone has foraged, players decide together how to use the cards they’ve found: cards may be used, shared, traded, or saved for later. Food can be eaten to restore health, and food that restores multiple health can be split among multiple players.
Crafting items may be used to build things:
- Fire: 1 wood. Flip the fire token to the lit side; fire protects from some events.
- Spear: 1 wood and 1 stone. Protects against one animal attack (and then breaks).
- Basket: 1 wood and 2 fiber. When foraging, may take an additional forage card. Doesn’t work if you’re resting.
- Shelter: 2 wood, 2 fiber, 2 stone. Protects up to 3 players from most weather events.
The game ends either when all players have died, or after the Rescue card has been turned over. I love this section from the rulebook for the survivors:
You’ve survived to be rescued from the Ravine. The battered survivors can return to society, fielding lucrative offers for book deals, made-for-TV movies, and tabletop game adaptations of your harrowing experience.
(If everyone dies, of course, you lose the game.)
Why You Should Play Ravine
Ravine is a cooperative survival game with a heavy storytelling aspect to it: sure, you have the mechanics of spending hearts to draw cards, and making decisions about what to build and who should eat how much food. But there are lots of opportunities to do a little bit of role-playing. The grub and the berries both provide one heart and are mechanically equivalent, but thematically there’s a huge difference between eating some berries and eating a grub. The game is a lot more entertaining if the players are willing to act out those situations rather than just figuring out the math—of course, the game also takes a lot longer then, too.
My kids (and a couple of my friends’ kids) really love Ravine, and have requested it multiple times since I first taught them how to play. And I’ve gotta say, playing with the kids was fascinating, because of the way it sometimes devolved into a Lord of the Flies scenario. There was one kid who wanted to go mad, so he would intentionally forage as much as he could, and then not eat the food. Another kid would forage and then keep all of her cards hidden. I would say that goes against the concept of a cooperative game, but it did go a long way toward reinforcing the theme of the game. Of course you’re gonna have some people who refuse to share what they’ve found or make poor decisions regarding their health and survival—and you’ll just have to work with them, or around them.
The biggest decision you’ll make every round is how much health to spend foraging. If you never forage, you’re not going to last long, because many events will require shelter or fire or weapons to protect yourself. However, if you spend health to forage but you don’t find food, then you’re stuck and will have to hope that somebody else brings some food back to camp for you the next day. How much health do you risk? Should you risk going down to 1 health to get more cards, hoping that at least one card has food?
The other wrinkle, of course, is that not all of the forage cards are good. Mixed into the deck are a couple of “uh-oh” cards, like the angry moose that will take away 2 health unless you can protect yourself. Or you might come across one of the many mushrooms that aren’t great for food—you might lose a lot of health, or even be unable to move or speak until the following day. (And don’t forget—just because you’re paralyzed doesn’t mean you can’t still go mad.)
The madness cards are fairly entertaining, though you do have to have players that are willing to be a little silly. For instance, you might have to dance, or sing, or refer to yourself as “Captain Cranberries” for the rest of the game. Depending on your luck and how risky you play, you might avoid madness altogether, or you might have several players go mad throughout the game. Some madnesses have more severe consequences than mild embarrassment: we lost some shelters when one player decided to light everything on fire; other madness cards can result in lost hearts.
The mix of night cards can be a little hit or miss. In one game I played, we happened to get mostly “no repercussions” cards, which made the game a lot easier. On another one, we had a bad string of events that destroyed our shelter or prevented a fire right when we needed it. It can feel fairly random how difficult the game can be—that may be fun thematically, but for groups who want a little more control over the difficulty level, it would have been nice to have recommendations on which cards to use. For instance, you might separate the night cards into good, neutral, and bad, and shuffle a certain number of each to form the night deck. (Fortunately, this is fairly easy to house-rule, but you’ll have to read the cards yourself to sort them.)
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed playing Ravine, particularly because my kids are so enthusiastic about it. It can feel like it’s a little more of a collaborative story-telling game than a serious strategic game, so it may not be quite as appealing to players looking for a tough cooperative experience. In the months between the Kickstarter and the finished game, the kids played Ravine a lot, to the point where some of the parents needed a bit of a break from it, but I did enjoy running a couple sessions of it at our Gaming with GeekDad event at Gen Con this year, and it’s been nice to have the shiny finished version, too. Some of the kids even came up with their own variant, with two teams competing against each other for survival—in case it wasn’t hard enough already!
For more information or to order a copy, visit the Ravine website!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.
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